March 26, 2013 10:14:19 AM
If you want to work for the city this summer, you'll have to pull your pants up, buckle your belt and leave the bling-bling at home.
The City of Columbus is once again partnering with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to offer area youth summer jobs in a paid, 10-week program aimed at putting cash in their pockets while instilling work ethics and beautifying the city.
Last week, the city council voted unanimously to give $20,000 -- twice what was requested -- to match MDOT's $35,000 grant for the Urban Youth Corps summer program.
The extra money, suggested by councilman Kabir Karriem, will allow more young people to participate in the competitive initiative, said Travis Jones, director of federal programs for the city.
Applications will be available at area high schools and colleges, and interested students ages 16-25 are encouraged to visit their guidance counselors for more information. The 20-hour per week, minimum-wage jobs will be Mondays through Thursdays from 7 a.m. to noon. Work will begin June 3 and end in early August.
With so many businesses cutting hours and reducing their workforces, teenagers sometimes have a hard time finding summer employment, Jones said. The Urban Youth Corps gives them the chance to gain experience that will serve them well into adulthood.
More than 300 youth are expected to apply for the 30 slots, and they will have to interview for the positions, just as they would for any job. Like a lot of today's jobs, part of the interview process includes a drug screening.
When would-be participants learn that, many get up and walk out of the interview, program coordinator George Irby said, but it's not meant to be easy -- it's meant to approximate the real world. There is a zero-tolerance policy for lying, tardiness, unexcused absences, profanity, smoking, fighting, drinking and drugs. Young men are also required to wear belts, and jewelry is prohibited.
"We try to give them an early taste of what life is going to be like," Jones said Monday. "We try to run it as close to a real job as possible while at the same time having fun."
Part of the program also includes a 20-hour life skills class where participants learn about job interviews, work dress codes, civic involvement and financial responsibility. Students who do well are given positive work references they can carry to their next job.
Karriem said he was glad the council backed the program with such enthusiasm.
"It gives our children an outlet," he said. "They won't be just hanging out, doing things they shouldn't do. It teaches them work ethics like being on time and teaches them that if you put in a good day's work, you get a good day's pay. Today's kids, they just go ask their mom or dad, 'I want the new sneakers,' or 'I want the car,' or the latest outfit or gear. They don't know it takes money to buy these things, that you have to work to get things in life. This is a good program to provide that opportunity."
And there have been success stories, Irby said. He recalls a young girl who came through the program while trying to raise a three-year-old. He was so impressed with her dedication that he called her back to participate the next year and later recommended her for another work program through East Mississippi Community College.
"She was probably the hardest worker we had," he said.
Projects the youth will participate in this summer include planting Little Gem magnolia trees along the Highway 182 bypass and Highway 45 North interchange, planting crape myrtles in the median along Highway 50, and landscaping, litter control and graffiti removal around town.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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